Chepauk cheer: Sachin Tendulkar, SS Das and Rahul Dravid enjoy a hard-fought win
Chepauk cheer: Sachin Tendulkar, SS Das and Rahul Dravid enjoy a hard-fought win
Twenty years on: an unforgettable series, an incredible final day. Relive it through the eyes of those who were there
Shrihari Sridhar turned 20 on March 14, 2001. The day's agenda: prepare for the Metrology and Instrumentation exam scheduled for the next day, to finish his fifth semester in Mechanical Engineering. Some classmates came over for joint study. The plan was to watch the fourth day of the Kolkata Test until a wicket fell, then switch off the television and get to their textbooks. Seven hours later, play ended. No wicket had fallen.
"We were dying by then," says Shrihari. "Going mad about Laxman-Dravid and panicking about the exam."
The next afternoon, in a college in the outskirts of Bangalore, midway through the exam, news trickled in: Australian wickets were tumbling in Kolkata. "Couldn't concentrate anymore. Wrote for 60-70 marks, left the hall, rushed home, and saw India win the Test. Same night, took the train to Chennai. The final Test was in three days."
From March 18 to 22, Shrihari rode the electric train from his uncle's house in Raja Annamalaipuram about 8km to the MA Chidambaram Stadium and back, and sat in the same spot in the Cricket Control Box situated at the pavilion end, "about 25 feet left of the sightscreen". The "Cricontrol Box", as the stadium regulars called it, was a box in name only. In reality it was an open-air vantage where spectators were exposed to the sweltering conditions, and, as a hefty compensation, pampered with elaborate lunches and an endless supply of snacks. "Bonda, bajji, kesari… you name it. I didn't miss a single meal," says Shrihari, and admits to nearly nodding off on some afternoons.
The other attraction of the Cricontrol Box was the presence of former Test cricketers, first-class cricketers, administrators, and minor celebrities, and Shrihari was never too far from punditry laced with sharp observations and acute nostalgia: the type of chatter that has fuelled the folklore around the Knowledgeable Chennai Crowd. VVS Laxman's artistry drew comparisons with Gundappa Viswanath's 97 in the Pongal Test of 1975. Sairaj Bahutule's selection led to talk of another legspinner, Narendra Hirwani, who harvested 16 wickets on debut in the Pongal Test of 1988.
"I prepared for trips to the subcontinent wearing a full tracksuit and a beanie in the gym. I would turn up the heat to make myself uncomfortable. Heat, humidity training: these were useful deep in a Test series"
That too against the great West Indies.
Great, yes, but it was still not Sobers' team [of '67].
That was also a Pongal Test. My wife used to pack puliyodare and karuvadaam for lunch.
Nowadays that is all not possible. Food from home won't withstand this March heat.
And on and on and on: taking off from the present, gliding into the past, from Chennai now to Madras then.
So much had happened in Kolkata. Australia's 16-Test winning streak was broken. India blacked out, then blazed like the Northern Lights. Laxman and Dravid stopped time. Harbhajan Singh, till recently contemplating a move to the US to drive trucks for a living, stopped a juggernaut. Still, having turned lead to gold, the players had no time to bask in the afterglow. Their flight was scheduled for the same evening and the Australian journalist Mark Ray remembers filing his reports and heading straight to the airport. "The next morning in Chennai, I went down to a little shop in the hotel lobby to buy newspapers and saw Dravid there. I introduced myself and congratulated him on his batting in Kolkata. He said thanks and started to walk out of the shop… and he could barely walk! His thighs were seized up."
The language around the match, as expected for a March Test in Chennai, emphasised the meteorological. Journalists speckled their reports with "scorching", "stifling" and "draining". Sweat dripped onto keypads, dupattas doubled up as hand fans, and Michael Slater wore an ice vest. Ray, who covered the series for the Sydney Morning Herald, suffered dehydration and nearly collapsed during a media event one evening. "In Kolkata I sat in the crowd, met the locals, took photos… but Chennai was a bit too hot and intense for any of that." The outdoor press box aggravated the exhaustion - though spectators sitting around Ray were unfussed. "I sat to the extreme right of the press box, which meant the crowd was only four feet from me. I remember some kids wearing tiger costumes and headpieces. They kept whistling, roaring and drumming their plastic bottles on all five days."
tatt tatt tata tat / tatt tatt tata tat / tatt tatt tata tat / tatt tatt tata tat
tatat ta ta tat / tatat ta ta tat / tatat ta ta tat / tatat ta ta tat
Hungry for runs: the 203 in Chennai was Matthew Hayden's first Test double-century. He went on to score a triple two years later
Hamish Blair / © Getty Images
Hungry for runs: the 203 in Chennai was Matthew Hayden's first Test double-century. He went on to score a triple two years later Hamish Blair / © Getty Images
Unlike Kolkata, where India rode a catapult, Chennai unspooled like a yo-yo. On the second morning Australia crumpled from 340 for 3 to 391 in a sequence that featured Sachin Tendulkar needling Steve Waugh ("Scared of losing, are you?", "You are an Aussie, where is your aggression now?", as per Laxman's book 281 and Beyond). On the third afternoon, with India 62 ahead and about to put a seal on the match, in came Jason Gillespie to revive the contest. Shrihari recalls a "fire-breathing dragon running in with his tongue sticking out like Goddess Kali". In his autobiography Playing It My Way, Tendulkar writes of Gillespie briefly tiring on the third day, his pace dropping with the second new ball, until he received a boost from beyond the boundary.
One solitary Australian fan, sitting at the top of the sightscreen and carrying a huge toy kangaroo, started screaming after every delivery, urging Gillespie on. He was shouting 'Come on Aussie' each time he walked back to the end of his run-up… Within minutes Gillespie started to bowl really quickly again and was all fired up. Rahul and I even discussed what had happened to him all of a sudden.
Gillespie remembers. He recollects waving to the fans and urging them to raise their volume. He is grateful for their support but so too for the work he put in to train for the series. "I prepared for trips to the subcontinent wearing a full tracksuit and a beanie in the gym while doing circuit work on bikes and VersaClimbers. I would turn up the heat in the room to make myself uncomfortable. Heat training, humidity training: these were useful deep in a Test series."
His seven-over spell late on day three sent back a set Dravid and Tendulkar, both edging to the wicketkeeper. Samir Dighe and Bahutule are happy to admit they couldn't see some missiles that went past. Ray was awestruck by Gillespie's pace and lift, and some spectators feared for the batsmen's safety. One of the most ferocious feats of fast bowling would go down in the books as 2 for 88. For those present, it was more like 8 for 22.
The match, the series and the possibility of one of the greatest comebacks in history hinged on the final day. Australia started 131 ahead and capitulated - one last time in the series - to Singh, who finished with 15 wickets in the Test and 32 in the series. Still, with 154 to defend in what was most certainly his final Test in India, Waugh had history on his side. No team had chased over 125 to win a Test on this ground. No team other than West Indies in Barbados, led by Brian Lara's monumental 153 not out, had pursued over 100 in the final innings to beat Waugh's Australia.
"I went down to the hotel lobby and saw Dravid there. I congratulated him on his batting in Kolkata. He said thanks and started to walk out and he could barely walk! His thighs were seized up"
And yet, few teams had a batsman of the calibre of Laxman, who, across two Tests, was not so much batting as dancing: the eyes alert to the length of the ball, the feet responding with assured strides, the body in sync with the approaching ball, the bat whistling through its arc, the musicality of bat striking ball, the shapeliness of the entire fluid motion… ball after ball after ball. Even a man as self-effacing as Laxman sheds his modesty when asked about the final day.
"After the 281, I was picking up cues from the bowlers, knowing what they would bowl before they delivered. And the timing - everything was happening on auto-pilot mode. I was just going through the flow and the rhythm was fantastic. But when you are batting in that fashion you sometimes get carried away - you feel that every ball is an easy ball to dispatch to the boundary. So I had to hold myself back.
"It was the same in the first innings. I got to my half-century quickly but got out playing a shot away from my body, caught in the slips off [Glenn] McGrath. So in the second innings I went in with a game plan - there were only certain shots I was going to play. I didn't play against the turn when facing Shane Warne. Against Colin Miller, I wasn't playing too many shots on the front foot, I was more on the back foot. Same with the fast bowlers. I told myself I'm not going to play a lavish cover drive against them. My plan was clear - while I was capable of playing a lot more shots, I told myself I won't play them all."
While the eloquence of a cover drive is a result of a lavish follow-through, the on-drive lights up when the bat swing is understated. Laxman unfurled one such minimalist wonder in the first ball of Gillespie's second spell, the bat prepared to place the ball anywhere between cover and midwicket but a subtle wristiness sending it whooshing between the non-striker and mid-on. Gillespie followed up with four faster, fuller deliveries that Laxman kept out, perhaps restraining himself, perhaps respecting the quality of the deliveries. Then came the final ball: banged in short and homing in towards his neck. Duck? Weave? Sway? Show respect? Not a chance. A fleet step back and a swivelled pull towards square leg: a fly's life terminated with one graceful twirl.
"I played a lot against VVS since we were around the same age," says Gillespie. "I was sick of bowling to him at the Under-19 level and then here he was again, terrorising us. But what a lovely batsman. And what a lovely man."
Sachin Tendulkar made 126 in the first innings, but when he fell early in the chase, many in the crowd had flashbacks of watching India lose to Pakistan two years before at the same ground
Hamish Blair / © Getty Images
Sachin Tendulkar made 126 in the first innings, but when he fell early in the chase, many in the crowd had flashbacks of watching India lose to Pakistan two years before at the same ground Hamish Blair / © Getty Images
The next over, with India on 76 for 1, S Ramesh took off for a risky single only for Laxman to hesitate. Stranded mid-pitch, run out, Ramesh scowled. But his own home crowd had swiftly moved on to welcoming the next batsman. S Ramesh was out. Sachin Ramesh, on the back of a masterful 126 in the first innings, could come in.
For close to half an hour, Tendulkar electrified the crowd. Seventeen came off 17 balls, including two fours off Warne and one off Gillespie. In the D Stand, a group of students made their way towards the Anna Pavilion. Convinced the match would finish soon, they wished to find a vantage point from which to watch the presentation ceremony.
Over the course of 20 years, memories fade and details blur but every single person interviewed for this piece brought up the moment a shiver ran up their spines: India 101 for 2, coasting to victory… Gillespie, from around the wicket, bowling from so wide that his front foot overshot the return crease, thudding a ball short of a good length… only for Tendulkar to shape to cut… but wait… the ball wasn't following the angle but straightening… hurtling towards Tendulkar's midriff… forcing him to sway out of harm's way, his bat still high …holding the pose… in the line of the ball… as it slammed the gloves and ballooned to second slip.
There are bouncers and there are bouncers. And there are pitch-perfect bouncers that rush a set Tendulkar, untangle his technique, and make him fend on a fifth-day pitch - c ME Waugh b JN Gillespie, but more aptly: mortified out.
Gillespie admits to having a plan. He also recognises his slice of good fortune.
"I just thought Sachin wouldn't be used to playing a right-arm fast bowler from around the wicket. He might not have faced that angle and it may get him to play a different shot. The plan was to attack the off stump and go across. And hopefully I could get a well-directed bouncer. What happened was that ball didn't bounce as high as Sachin anticipated. The pitch was sluggish. It was the fifth day. So the natural variation worked in my favour."
India still needed 54.
One of the greatest comebacks in history hinged on the final day. With 154 to defend, Waugh had history on his side. No team had chased over 125 to win a Test on this ground
In Gillespie's next over, Sourav Ganguly was out: edging to second slip while trying to cover-drive - a retake of the previous ball that he edged between second and third slip while trying to cover-drive. Gillespie again from around the wicket. "My run-up and my rhythm felt good. The adrenaline was going. I was willing myself to bowl as fast as I could. A couple of lads said, 'You're getting the ball to fly through, Dizzy.' It was day five but the ball was carrying to [Adam] Gilchrist at a good height."
By now Gillespie knew he was going to be rested for the one-dayers. Here was his last chance to make a mark. "Through the final day, I felt a little pain on the bones of one of my feet. It wasn't a fracture but the stress could have done some damage. I was sore but I wasn't going to let anyone know (chuckles). I wanted to keep bowling."
An over later, Dravid was out: driving Colin Miller to mid-on, the leading edge popping up to mid-off.
India 122 for 5.
Runs needed: 33.
Wickets remaining: Laxman (60 not out), Samir Dighe (debut), Sairaj Bahutule (debut), Zaheer Khan (fourth Test), Harbhajan Singh (11th Test, average 7.75), and Nilesh Kulkarni (third Test, highest score: 4).
Murmurs in the crowd:
Last time, Laxman was lbw to Wasim in the first innings and Waqar in the second.
Tendulkar out, match over.
Bahutule has many Ranji hundreds.
Samir Dighe batted up the order in a one-dayer in Australia and made 3 off 25 balls.
Jason Gillespie: "Through the final day, I felt a little pain on the bones of one of my feet. I was sore but I wasn't going to let anyone know. I wanted to keep bowling"
Hamish Blair / © Getty Images
Jason Gillespie: "Through the final day, I felt a little pain on the bones of one of my feet. I was sore but I wasn't going to let anyone know. I wanted to keep bowling" Hamish Blair / © Getty Images
As new batsmen searched for the right notes, Laxman reeled off his melody. He upped the tempo between 47 and 60 through three fours in one Warne over. "It was important to not go into a shell," he says about the phase leading up to tea. "What I learnt in Kolkata was that if I play to the merit of the ball, I've got enough shots to score runs. So I didn't need to try to go after any bowler. Each time I saw a scoring opportunity, I took it."
The second ball after tea, with 20 required, Laxman was served a most tempting long hop from the offspinner Miller. Feet frolicked back. Bat came down on ball with bone-cracking intensity. The red blur flew to midwicket and hurtled towards the…
Mark Waugh did what?
The journalist Sharda Ugra sums up the moment in two words: "Sound stopped."
V Ramakrishnan, sitting in the D Stand with three friends - S Mahesh, J Rajaraman and R Ganesh, all students - carries a visceral memory of the catch. "A little earlier, Laxman played a cover drive off Gillespie. The crowd gasped for a brief moment… and then cheered. For the Mark Waugh catch, it was a gasp, and then complete silence. I have never been at a place where 50,000 people were silent at the same time. Pin-drop silence. As if someone said, 'Shut up.'"
Mahesh drills deeper: "In that situation, even a few seconds of silence feels like a long time. It is such a lonely thing, so deeply personal. And so many others are feeling it as well. It's like a - I don't know what to call it - collective grief, but grief beyond what one experiences in a sporting moment."
Laxman stood transfixed. He knew he was out. He knew the catch was clean. But how on earth?
There are bouncers and there are pitch-perfect bouncers that rush a set Tendulkar, untangle his technique, and make him fend on a fifth-day pitch - c ME Waugh b JN Gillespie, but more aptly: mortified out
"Only someone like Mark Waugh could have taken that catch," says Laxman. "It was a full-blooded pull shot and it was flying. For the first time in my career, I had a chance to finish a Test. I had done that for Hyderabad and South Zone but I never got an opportunity to win a match for India at the end. There was just 20 runs to go but the way Australia were bowling and fielding, you knew it was not going to be a cakewalk. Now I was out. All the hard work in Kolkata and Chennai would be nullified if we had lost from that position."
Mark Waugh's nonchalance amplified the shock in the stadium. His whites spotless after the full-length dive, his shades unmoved, his wide-brimmed hat unperturbed. What's the big deal, he seemed to say. Can we move on?
Shrihari's world came to a standstill. "My cousin and I were jumping, looking towards the boundary, and Australia were getting into a huddle. It took ten seconds to realise what had happened. And that Mark Waugh reaction - he wasn't even celebrating! That's when it struck us: Australia think they are going to win this match. I had almost forgotten how great they were. That they had won 16 Tests in a row before Kolkata."
Ramakrishnan: "In my head, the ball was traveling fast and Mark Waugh was moving slow. I don't know how he took that catch. Usually when a ball passes the fielder, he takes a single-hander. But here Mark Waugh has time to get both hands behind him, dive and catch. How did he have the time to get another hand in there? Just sheer anticipation, I guess."
Mahesh: "TV replays don't do it justice. There was a moment when he was parallel to the ground. When you see it on TV you don't feel he is defying gravity."
Ramakrishnan: "That catch deserved all the applause. But in that moment, we were like: ada paavi."
Mahesh: "Not even ada paavi. The whole stand was collectively saying ot**."
The words in italics roughly translate to "bloody hell" and "oh f**k". But they convey so much more in the original.
Not this guy again: VVS Laxman, Aussie dream-crusher
Hamish Blair / © Getty Images
Not this guy again: VVS Laxman, Aussie dream-crusher Hamish Blair / © Getty Images
Up in the press area, K Balakumar was hunched over a laptop, applying finishing touches to his final report. Now Mark Waugh had stomped all over the first paragraph.
"The catch came out of the blue - I am not sure I even saw it," says Balakumar, who covered the match for the Chennai eveninger News Today. "I had to watch the replays to understand what happened. Around us, many of the spectators were puzzled. There was no giant screen so they tried to lean into the press area to see the TV replay."
The wicket called for a rapid rewrite. "I changed my lede. Words to the effect of: Australia pluck victory from the jaws of defeat. Back then, India had a tendency of losing from that position. Australia had a tendency of winning from that position. Plus, there was the hangover of the 1999 Test, when India collapsed after Tendulkar's dismissal."
Two years earlier he had written his reports in longhand and faxed them in. Now he wrote on a "primitive laptop" and lugged the bulk to the telecom room (behind the press area) to connect to the internet. "Since the line was unstable, I had to send each report two or three times. And the match was ending very close to my deadline. Each time I sent a copy, I also missed the match. And I was guessing what was happening based on the crowd noise."
A stone's throw away from the press box, in the stand reserved for Madras Cricket Club members, Rishikesh Karra could have exploded with delight. He had a balcony view of Mark Waugh's stunner. Now Australia scented victory.
"I was going berserk but didn't want to celebrate too loudly. I kept my happiness to myself."
Rishikesh had first seen Mark Waugh during an Indian XI vs World XI exhibition match in 1992, and a relaxed chat after the game had won him over. Soon Australia became "we" and their victories his joy. His love for the team even dictated a big academic decision: he joined an exchange programme run by the University of Southern Queensland, and in 2004 went on to pursue his academic interests in the town of Toowomba, a two-hour drive from Brisbane.
"For the Mark Waugh catch, it was a gasp and then complete silence. I have never been at a place where 50,000 people were silent at the same time. Pin-drop silence. As if someone said, 'Shut up'"
"The good thing for me was - everyone knew everyone else in the MCC Stand. My dad had been a member since 1977 and he was later president. So they all knew I supported Australia. And they sometimes gave me a hard time - in a friendly way. And I would get back at them when Australia did well. You had a certain freedom when you sat in the MCC Stand. If I had gone to D Stand and cheered Mark Waugh's catch, I might not have gone home alive."
Diametrically opposite, among a crestfallen throng in the E and F Stands, VV Sivakumar had seen enough. Convinced the match had swung Australia's way, he made for the exits.
"I am part of a generation that grew up expecting India to lose or draw a match," says Sivakumar, a lawyer based in Chennai. "I'm old enough to remember the 42 all out [at Lord's] in 1974. I was seven then. I heard it on the radio. When Laxman got out, my heart sank. I left the stadium, took an auto, and was home in 15 minutes."
The most persuasive among the four students in the D Stand, Rajaraman, saw no reason to stay on. All it took was a whiff of defeat; he would stop watching and pray for the game to shift in India's favour. He had inherited this habit from his sports-mad grandfather, who asked people to "get out of the room" if they harboured thoughts of an Indian defeat. The 1999 Test against Pakistan in Chennai remains a scar. "I left the stadium after Tendulkar got out but India still lost," Rajaraman says. "That Test was tough. I am yet to see how that match finished."
Now Mahesh and Ganesh readily followed him to the gates. Ramakrishnan trailed reluctantly.
"The memory of the 1999 defeat to Pakistan was too strong," says Mahesh. "We all knew the tail hadn't been able to score 17 runs. And they needed 20 more here… and as we are heading out, Bahutule got out for a duck, edging Miller to slip. We were like, 'Boss, we don't want to be there for this heartbreak. Just keep going.'"
How the mighty fell: in their last 15 series before the 2001 one, Australia had lost only twice, in India in 1997-98 and in Sri Lanka in 1999
Hamish Blair / © Getty Images
How the mighty fell: in their last 15 series before the 2001 one, Australia had lost only twice, in India in 1997-98 and in Sri Lanka in 1999 Hamish Blair / © Getty Images
Samir Dighe has several memories of his Test debut:
- Gillespie bowling so fast that it was hard to get his bat up in time
- Waiting for his turn to bat on the final day and assuring Ganguly: "This match is ours"
- Tendulkar advising him to wear an elbow guard
- A missile from Gillespie thudding into the very same elbow guard and deflecting to fine leg
- Warne getting him out lbw in the first innings
"And on the final day, there was a lot of rough on the good-length area and I didn't want to face Warne on that pitch. So when Zaheer came in, I said to him: 'Colin Miller is the most dangerous bowler.' And I made sure I said it loud enough for Steve Waugh to hear it, so that he would keep Miller on and not bring back Warne."
It is unclear if Steve Waugh fell for this trickery. Miller recently told the Greatest Season That Was Presents podcast: "Stephen and I had spoken about the field… And the wicket had started to turn a bit and we decided to put guys in front of the wicket in catching positions." Ball three Dighe glided to third man for two. Ball five was tossed up outside off. Dighe flayed. The edge flew past Warne at first slip and ran away to the boundary for four. The next ball was short and inviting. Dighe rocked back and steered it behind gully for another four.
For Shrihari in the Cricontrol box, these fours blew the lid off the pressure cooker. "Until that over, every moment was a prayer. People around me stopped analysing and criticising. They stayed quiet and hoped for the best. Then Dighe hit those fours and we thought he was playing a phenomenal innings. Now we know there were edges going for four but back then, all I saw was that he made some vital runs and then walked up to calm down his partner."
Till then, Miller's spell had read: 4-1-6-3. The ten-run over would be his last of the day - and of his Test career.
India needed nine runs; Australia, three wickets.
"I get nervous each time I watch the highlights. When Sameer Dighe gets those edges, when Harbhajan takes a risky single, I have to pinch myself to say, 'It is only the highlights - the match was won many years ago'"
One of the batsmen left was Nilesh Kulkarni, slotted in at No. 11 and set for a decisive role in his comeback Test. What he hadn't accounted for was the unsolicited advice from those around him.
"In those days Chennai had only a partial fencing between the players' enclosure and the members' enclosure," Kulkarni says, "and as I sat there, I heard what the members were saying - and many were even trying to talk to me."
Some of the words he overheard:
Nilesh, don't make this another tied Test.
Incidentally, that time the last man in was Maninder Singh, another left-arm spinner.
In that Test also, there was a double-hundred by an Australian batsman.
Nilesh, you should just block and support your partner.
"We all know the Chennai crowd is a hardcore Test-loving crowd. They are very knowledgeable. I was the last man in. So it was adding to all the pressure. The moment Zaheer got out, it felt like my legs weighed 50 kgs."
India needed four runs. Australia, two wickets.
It is unclear if Rajaraman, Mahesh, and Ganesh rode triples on a bike or boarded a bus or took an autorickshaw. What they agree on is walking down Choolaimedu High Road towards the Cool 'N' Cool joint, eager to enjoy some rose milk, badam milk and ice-cream - when they noticed an animated crowd outside an electronics store. "We were like, 'Why are people still watching?'" remembers Mahesh. "And that's when we realised the match was still on! At once, we ran towards my house, about 800 metres away, and as we got close, through the open door we saw our families celebrating…"
Rajaraman, who lived one floor below Mahesh, remembers hugging his grandfather as they watched the replay of the final ball. "And he told me: you people leaving the stadium was the best decision you could have taken."
We got there somehow: after making 22 not out in a nervy chase, keeper Sameer Dighe holds up the Border-Gavaskar Trophy
Sherwin Crasto / © Associated Press
We got there somehow: after making 22 not out in a nervy chase, keeper Sameer Dighe holds up the Border-Gavaskar Trophy Sherwin Crasto / © Associated Press
Ramakrishnan doesn't remember why he parted with the group but he is certain that on the bus home from Chepauk he kept looking for storefronts along the way. "In Chennai, every electronic store used to keep some TV sets facing the street so that passersby could watch matches. I knew that if people were standing outside these stores, the game was on. When I got off at Choolaimedu bus stop on Nelson Manickam Road, there was a crowd outside an electronic store. Thankfully I am 6ft 3in, so I stood on tip-toe to see what was happening. It was perfect timing: Harbhajan tapped the winning runs and everyone around me started celebrating."
What of the chunk he and his friends missed?
"I get nervous each time I watch the highlights," says Ramakrishnan. "When Sameer Dighe gets those edges to third man for four, when Harbhajan takes a risky single to mid-off with three required, I still can't believe it. There is one moment when Zaheer survives an lbw appeal off McGrath. It was so close. The Australians appealed like it is the end of the world. And then I have to pinch myself to say, 'It is only the highlights - the match was won many years ago.' You still feel, 'What if this had been out? What if Harbhajan had to come in then? How would the match have turned?' It still gives me nightmares."
Sivakumar, the lawyer, watched the last few overs at home in T-Nagar. "I switched on the TV and Zaheer immediately got out. But India just needed four runs then so I continued watching. When the winning moment came, I remember whooping with my young nephew and giving him a kiss. Just ten minutes earlier, I had absolutely no hope of an Indian win."
Shrihari jumped with delight the moment Singh squirted the ball through the gap - and though he swished his bat in the air when returning for the second run, it took some time for the umpires to confirm the win. When Dighe and Singh finally embraced mid-pitch, Shrihari and his cousin jumped again - in case the cameraman was searching for reactions. "If you watch the highlights and pause the final frame, you can see me in the corner of the screen."
In the MCC Stand, Rishikesh was in tears. Despite the resounding win in Mumbai and three dominant days in Kolkata, despite Matthew Hayden's double-hundred putting them in an emphatic position here, despite McGrath and Gillespie straining every sinew on the final day, despite Mark Waugh's otherworldly fielding, the series had somehow slipped away. "It was a really painful blow and I couldn't control myself at the finish," he says. "Everyone around me saw how upset I was, so they let me be. There were two Aussie guys who watched the game from the MCC stand and one was carrying an Australian flag. When he saw me crying, he came up and draped the flag around me. He said, 'Don't worry about it, mate,' and then walked off. I still have that flag with me."
Shrihari Sridhar is a professor of marketing in Texas; Mark Ray, a cricket journalist between 1986 and 2001, is retired in Sydney; V Ramakrishnan, now Ramakrishnan Vasudevan, is an IT professional in Chennai; S Mahesh, now Mahesh Sethuraman, is a finance professional in Singapore; J Rajaraman is an IT professional in Dubai; K Balakumar, a former editor of News Today, is now a freelancer in Chennai; Rishikesh Karra is an entrepreneur in Chennai; VV Sivakumar is a lawyer in Chennai
Balakumar filed his final report and returned to the press area. He remembers photographers on the field shooting close-ups, the Indian team taking a victory lap, and an overcrowded presentation ceremony. "As a journalist, it was an anticlimax," he says, "like an after-sex feeling. The improbable series win had given us such a high. These kind of highs were not regular for Indian cricket then. The thought was: how do you match something like this?"
What of the heady scenes around him?
"It was around 3-ish when the match finished. Maybe 3.30. The sea breeze hadn't set in at Chepauk. It was still hot and humid - a typical muggy kind of day. The distinct memory I have is of the smell of cigarettes all around me. You were allowed to smoke in some stands those days. And in the open press box there was a strong smell of nicotine floating around. I am imagining the smell was exaggerated because of the tense finish.
"That smell is still there in my mind. The heat, the smoky afternoon, the Chennai haze, the smell of sweat mingling with the smell of nicotine, and all that coming together with the metaphysical smell of victory… I can't put it in words, but I can smell it right now."
Can one actually smell victory?
"It was certainly in the air."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a writer and editor based in Seattle. His debut novel What's Wrong with You, Karthik? is out from Picador India
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